By on August 25, 2014



Design School forces considerations outside of a student’s artistic comfort zone: a unique price, demographic, or geography for starters. Just don’t present a pragmatic design based in sociocultural fact: a conventional sedan for the Indian market–isolating the wealthy from their hired help and their untouchable luggage—was a fantastically stupid mistake. Cultural and profit-minded relevance aside, that’s the not-so-secret secret I’ve mentioned before in this series. Cars are made under a litany of profit-minded constraints, no matter what they may teach in design school.

And some thrive in their design constraints.


A slot. Just a slot: no big stupid Audi-esque maw, no poseur Aston Martin grin, no bullshit. The 2014 Mitsubishi Mirage ES is a snub-nosed hatchback working hard to reduce frontal area, with a .28 drag coefficient to boot. It took an unappealing template and made it work with a modicum of functional style and elegant interplay between elements and cut lines.

If only there was an ever-so-slight curve (down into the bumper) to the hood+fascia cut line.


Respect the slot…as it slices into the lower bumper.


No love for the badge so big that the hood cut line must bend to clear it. This is one excruciating element in modern automotive design, a Britches-Busting Badge dominating many an automotive face for no reason.

Not necessarily Mitsubishi’s fault, but the natural contours of the body must come first.


Oh Lamborghini, why must you bring credence to this abomination of a branding exercise?


Several harmonious elements, all with a “flow” that (attempts to) draw your eyes to a long and sleek form. Like how the grille slot’s earth-bound vanishing points are shared with the lower grille. The Mirage’s lower bumper has devil horns at each corner, arcing to the wheels. Then the fog light’s recess with upward slash into the Mirage’s side.   And finally, hood bulges that mimic the headlight’s contours as it flows to the windshield.


Transition to the fender: where’d the flow go? Small and cheap cars wind up with bug-eyed headlights on a stump-like face. All the flowy goodness from the last photo is gone in the name of compact car proportioning.


After experiencing these in my 1983 Ford Sierra Ghia in dawn/dusk conditions, the gentle glow of the headlight assembly when in parking light only mode is cool. Glad this bulb made it into the US-spec Mirage.


There’s a fake bezel and a fake(?) cylindrical housing inside the bumper’s fog light insert. Looked better before I said that, right?



The lower grille needs a Prancing Horse emblem à la Ferrari 612 Scaglietti. Mostly to be preposterous, but also to reward the clean integration worthy of more expensive metal: a nice contrast to the uber-subtle slot just north.


Too bad there isn’t one texture, instead of false teeth, small rectangles and larger rectangles. A dark-colored bolt would be nice too.


Here’s where the small car headlights really stand out. Even with the dimensional constraints, kudos to Mitsubishi for stamping out a reasonably bullet-nosed schnoz for such a short (length) and tall (height) machine.


Here’s a tidy cowl area, with the requisite windshield-to-fender modesty panel in black plastic. If only the hood extended further back to (presumably) reduce that panel’s size…and still actually open.


Large gaps around the windshield somewhat disappoint, but the metal work and paint quality remain respectable.


I used the term “honest” quite often in my review of this machine, no better proof than this antenna.


The repeater light and its subtle curve can’t take your eyes away from the DLO FAIL for long. Too bad the fender to A-pillar line can’t merge with the door to A-pillar line without losing the Mirage’s faux-sleekosity. (i.e. push the door cut line forward, making it rather boxy)


Gray rocker covers are unexpected when exposed unibody metal construction are acceptable for a cheap car. I was expecting blue-painted folds, creases and spot welds! Nice.


There’s a reassuring linearity and solidarity in these fast yet upright lines. The B-pillar’s black paint is a nice touch, since the belt line rubber demands a harsh transition from window to door frame. Compare this to something zany like the Nissan Cube.


A dash of tumblehome evident when opening the door: not bad for a small car that’s surprisingly roomy inside.


Tighter and more uniform panel gaps wouldn’t hurt.


The Mirage’s DLO FAIL free rear doors and fixed window free glass was a nice touch at this price. Also note the window’s outline empathizes with the door cut line and the hatchback’s outline.


The roofline has a Prius-like, teardrop fall. If it wasn’t for the DLO fail, there’d be an elegant flow from door to roof, to B-pillar. The strong bend above the door handle along with its softer partner below adds visual excitement to an otherwise plump and forgettable form.


While not as pretty as the close up you saw two photos ago, the upward belt line matches the trajectory of the two sheet metal bends below. The door cut line is on point with the B-pillar, elegantly encasing the rear door.


Step back and it’s still a cheap 5-door subcompact. No matter what!


Wait…are those flush mounted, non pull-lever type door handles? My design pet peeve hurdle cleared, the replacement of a conventional key lock for the ES-grade Mirage’s keyless system is logical, ergonomic and cost-effective.


A cheap car gets away with this: plus the passenger’s key lock makes sense if the transmitter fails harder than the DLO on a Chevy Cruze.


Man, that’s a huge gas door. Except it’s a normal-sized door on a small car with a seriously short overhang. If only there was a more elegant attachment point for the wraparound rear bumper. Considering this car’s intended market (crowded streets in third-world nations) the wraparound bumpers are more than mandatory.


The Mirage’s 14” wheels are static and uninspiring, except not: wheels this small are a treat if you’re sick of rubber band side walls from ill-proportioned mad-tite rims.


Another pet peeve: those fake slots do no favors to the wheel’s design. Either have real negative area, or make a flat casting.


Much like the Dodge Viper coupe’s helmet friendly roof design, the Mirage has little dimples for the hinges. It’s acceptable when viewed with spoiler’s speed bumps. The huge panel gaps, however…


It’s a rare occasion when a car actually needs a spoiler to complete the look, and the Mirage needs it more than a Plymouth Superbird!


Too many static elements: strong and steady cut line, downward sloping wedge from the quarter panel to the bumper and another lump that expands toward the bumper’s center section. These lumps aren’t structurally relevant, get a rounder bumper cover to mimic the front end’s bullet look instead.


Yup, round it off. (EDIT: enlightened reader SamTheGeek mentioned this is for aero, contributing to the Mirage’s fantastic numbers. So nevermind.)


The Fallout Shelter reflector logo in the deeply sunken housing brings a smile to one’s face.


The Venn Diagram worthy tail light cluster looks outdated by today’s standards. But compare the Mirage’s eyes to the cyborg (no pun intended) look of a Chevy Spark, maybe old and boring ain’t so bad.


The plasti-chrome emblem was unexpected: no cheapie vinyl-jelly decal? While the bumper’s transition to the hatchback is pleasant enough, the hatchback itself could benefit from pushing the tail light “back” to create an uninterrupted flow from the base of the door to the crest of the tail light.

What was that phrase about the shortest distance between two points? Or just a gentle curve instead. Don’t fight the flow!


Oh wow, another unconventional handle! And that cute little button again! Replicating a design saves money, and these bits are far from offensive the third time ‘round.


Imagine if the hatchback did indeed move in a solid, singular sweep from its base to the top of the tail light. No matter, console yourself with the clean lines introduced in the wiper arm.


The spoiler sure has a well-integrated CHMSL, too bad it isn’t red like the tail lights.


Again, problems emblematic with the brand: the logo is too big. Uncomfortably close to the handle and the transition to the rear glass, logos must stop dominating vehicle design. And imagine if the hatchback had a smoother line so it wouldn’t play second fiddle to the tail lights!

Yet here’s proof that fundamentally good, honest design lies in the most unexpected places. While the Mirage’s sins are unacceptable at a higher price, these are white lies and not all out deceit. Never in my wildest dreams could I imagine liking the Mirage to this extent. But whatever, life is full of contrasts.

Thank you for reading, I hope you have a lovely week.


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44 Comments on “Vellum Venom: 2014 Mitsubishi Mirage ES...”

  • avatar

    I’m stunned. When I saw the headline I was expecting you to rip it to shreds.

  • avatar

    Fog lights. Why do carmakers bother with them at all? Are of any real benefit? I’ve had them on cars for decades, and never once found them useful.

    • 0 avatar
      heavy handle

      Love ’em. They are especially useful in snow storms, they help you find the edge of the road on unplowed streets. Same thing in heavy rain on twisty roads.

      • 0 avatar

        Agreed heavy handle.Except for the snw thing. Being in Brazil, we don’t get much snow, but in the rain or poorly lit backroads, specially of the car in question has weak main headlights, it’s great.

        • 0 avatar

          The wife’s Mirage came with fog lights. If I were to have ordered the car I probably wouldn’t have sprung for them, but they’re actually pretty great. The headlights do a fine job on their own, but the fog/driving lights really come in handy on very dark roads. I’m glad they’re on there.

  • avatar

    The purpose of fog lights is to blind oncoming drivers by using them in conjunction with high beams on clear nights when driving on streets with street lights located every 150 feet.

    The secondary purpose of fog lights is to add an easily broken feature to plastic bumpers so the cost of using bumpers for their intended purpose (bumping!!!) can be even more expensive.

    • 0 avatar

      By default fog lights turn off when high beams are on. So odds are that if someone has gone through the trouble to modify that from factory spec, they’ve probably done further mods to be as obnoxious to other drivers as possible. That’s a behavior issue, not a factory equipment issue. I’ve never seen factory foglights that have bothered my eyes. When punks put blinding blue HID’s in the foglight spots, well that’s another story altogether.

      I’ve had cars with woefully inadequate factory low beam headlights. In those cases the foglights do help considerably with driver visibility, and so long as they’re aimed forward and not upwards they don’t bother other drivers.

    • 0 avatar


  • avatar

    That sharp edge on the trailing edge of the rear bumper – while it might look out of place, it is a drag-coefficient assisting feature. A sharp transition between side and rear separates the airflow cleanly, reducing drag. This is very noticeable on the Prius’ rear bumper – and particularly if you compare the hybrid versions of the midsize Korea-twins (Sonata/Optima) with their non-hybrid counterparts (their bumpers gain extra sharp corners)

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah it’s gotta be that. Really shoulda mentioned that in the article.

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      Thanks for the memory.

      As a model rocketry enthusiast in my youth, I learned early on how much drag was induced by rounding the stabilizing fins and instead left the squared off edges intact, or spent a few extra days creating a proper sharp profile to assist in our altitude record models.

    • 0 avatar

      Indeed, you’re right! For the 2014 facelift, Hyundai actually put similarly sculpted bumpers on *all* of the Sonatas, not just the hybrid models. However this feature did not make it into the non-hybrid versions of the all-new 2015 Sonata.

  • avatar

    Its only in the owner’s driveway for an average of 9 months and those short overhangs help the recovery driver hook it up easier at two in the morning.

    • 0 avatar

      These cars are so small and light that a couple guys with an electric jack and a couple car dollies can jack it up and silently wheel it off the driveway, down the street, and around the corner to the waiting flatbed. The locksmith will arrive at the yard in the morning.

  • avatar

    It’s remarkable that no matter how advanced the technology that underlies it, the car still manages to scream “I’M POOR AND THIS IS THE BEST I COULD AFFORD!”

    The proportions are preposterous and do nothing but detract from what little credibility the vehicle has to begin with.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t get it, what’s wrong with this car being all you can afford?

      • 0 avatar

        Mainly, because of the obsession with maximizing space utilization.

        A car this small could have a trunk, or even be a hatchback, but it should NEVER have two doors down each side.

        This size of a vehicle could be a cool little coupe, but not a sedan.

        Look at an ’89 Civic hatchback, City Turbo II or Today. While small, those cars have more car-like proportions, and being essentially coupes, have more linear space to alleviate some of the exercise-in-forced-perspective styling that such a small shape demands.

        This thing looks like a toy or a cartoon – and not in a good way.

        • 0 avatar

          “Look at an ’89 Civic hatchback, City Turbo II or Today. While small, those cars have more car-like proportions, and being essentially coupes, have more linear space to alleviate some of the exercise-in-forced-perspective styling that such a small shape demands.”

          Very good point. But since I actually drove this one (press car) I must admit that function over form is a great idea for small cars.

          The interior is HUGE for such a small machine. We’ve come a long way in terms of space utilization.

          • 0 avatar

            Oh hey, no doubt there’s lots of room.

            I’m just someone who’s willing to sacrifice a little function for the sake of form.

            Hell, I prefer the long, battleship-like, big-car proportions of a Crown Vic to a kei car, but there are times…

            I don’t like hatchbacks generally because to my eye they’re shaped like shoes, but I do like the ’89 Civic and the current Focus ST – because of their styling relative to others of their type.

            The Civic especially, because it’s functional but sleek and pointy in the nose compared to modern examples of its type.

          • 0 avatar

            Again, you get it Sajeev.

        • 0 avatar

          I’m in my last few days with a 2004 Hyundai Accent 3-Door, without air conditioning. Two-doors or not, it’s still an ugly little wart of a car. Just, it’s harder to access the back seat, and ventilation is horrendous, so this huge mass of warm air just kind of builds up behind the b-pillar and doesn’t go anywhere. Granted, most Mirages have A/C for now, but still, the added practicality and airflow is better than image on a car like this.

          I mean, I respect one of the few new cars that makes no illusions about what it is, like, at all. No “premium,” no “rugged,” no “sporty,” just a small cheap car. That serves a purpose, that’s all it aspires to be, and I get that.

        • 0 avatar

          Not really. Actually the front is very good, while the back is horrible. The side could’ve been done better ’cause they could have gotten the intended effect while not actually lowering the roof and gotten even more internal space.

          It doesn’t look like a cartoon at all. Looking like a cartoon would have done it good. Look at the Nissan March, Fiat Uno (new) and VW Up for even more cartoon-y elements and an overall more successful design.

          4 doors are the norm Alpha. I don’t mind a car like this with 2 doors, 4 doors are de riguer and if you don’t offer it sales suffer.

      • 0 avatar

        Agreed, Nico.

    • 0 avatar

      You can easily buy license plate frames that read “My other car is a Corolla”.

  • avatar

    I noticed that on my Jetta SportWagen, the A-pillar line actually curves downward to meet the door-cut line instead of shooting right past it…which is also something that you’d see on a lot of GM cars (Equinox, Terrain, Malibu, SS, etc). Would that be considered DLO fail? It’s certainly not as graceful as a honest vertex union (a la Passat)…but it’s not as unsightly as a giant piece of extra plastic, either.

  • avatar

    Liking the Mirage big time, and that’s saying a lot for non-Japanese fans like me. It’s a better car than the automotive snobs will admit.

  • avatar

    Funny I just read an article this a.m. on The Street that listed this car in the 10 ugliest cars of 2014. Prior to that, there have been countless other reviews ripping this car. Though nothing more nonsensical and pointless as Car & Driver doing a comparison with a 2005 VW Phaeton.

    It seems TTAC has the sole collective of auto journos that will allow for some merit in this car’s existence.

    • 0 avatar

      I know I’m jaded by the fact that I got one for a week on Mitsubishi’s dime, but it’s just too fundamentally good to get an overall negative review.

      If it was more expensive, sure, rip away. But there’s too much wholesome automotive goodness to like in a 2000lb car with 14″ wheels and 50+ MPG with the A/C on.

    • 0 avatar

      Because at TTAC that is a wide variety of journos with differing backgrounds that can appreciate the good in ll cars, whether they be Panthers or mini cars. We also write like we see it and feel it, no censorship and no appealing to the lowest common denominator. Easy to make jokes and discount cars like these on preconceived notions of the past (that isn’t coming back), harder to tell it like it is and to perceive merit and give praise when its due.

  • avatar

    Is the front emblem “bump” truly a styling exercise, or is there more going on behind that up-tick in the bumper cover? Is it hiding a secondary hood latch? Or possibly providing a more substantial mounting point for the plastic cover? I don’t know any of these answers, but for a car not (necessarily) intended for styling as much as function, I’d think it would be simpler (read: less complicated/expensive) to leave that hood carve-out on the design room floor.

  • avatar

    If I were in the market for a small, cheap import for long daily commutes or road trips, I’d probably buy it. It’s reasonably priced, isn’t too flamboyant in its design (I prefer conservative styling) and seems to be economical to own.

    Here’s the thing, though. I’m not really comfortable with the fact that it’s a Mitsubishi. The company may pull out of the US, and subsequently, obtaining parts and service harder to achieve.

    What’s more, cheap cars are just that. These cars may regularly go for 300k or more, you never know, but cheap cars usually mean blown headgaskets, timing belts shredding to pieces before the service due date, the wheels literally falling off the axles, and so on, before the car even sees 150k.

    I think a lot of the cheap cars older than 10 years are still on the road only because of the mileage they get and the fact that “expensive” parts, like the tiny engines, are only about $300-500 at most at a salvage yard should anything need replacing.

    The potential of 45 mpg on the freeway, without going the hybrid route, is really attractive though. I drive long distances often and I hate paying for fuel. Makes my 31 mpg Chrysler 200 look like a pig, haha.

    • 0 avatar

      Talked to a guy at mitsubishi about their future here, the plan is to stick with what they sell everywhere else. Cheap functional durable cars that get great gas mileage..

  • avatar

    I think Renault is currently the worst offender in the “Logos Dominating Design” trend. Theirs is a nice logo, but presented WAY too huge on all its newer models.

  • avatar

    I can’t stand the back plate. It’s not mounted level and that is really bugging me.

  • avatar

    Funny, I don’t remember this in real life! Wow!

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